Inspiring Future Scholars—An Intergenerational Model

Posted by Jennifer Oliver, Dec 21, 2016 0 comments

In a recent interview on Here & Now with Renee Wilson-Simmons, Director of National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, we are reminded that while the economy seems to be on the upswing, with jobs increasing and unemployment down, one group is still falling behind: children.[1] According to the 2015 U.S. Census Data, the nation’s poverty rate has declined in 23 states to 13.5% on average, with no state seeing a poverty rate increase.[2] However, the rate of children living in poverty has gradually increased since 2008. Currently, 20% of children are living in poverty. That’s one in five American children. This means that the citizens most at risk to deficient health, emotional, and cognitive development, and the poorest citizens of our country, are also the youngest.

Children who are raised in poverty are at the highest risk of encountering difficulties later in life; this includes emotional and social challenges, acute and chronic stressors, health and safety, cognitive development, and social behavioral problems. These factors combined present a significant challenge to academic and social success.[3]

At A Step Beyond, a creative youth development organization working with children experiencing homelessness and/or living in poverty, our goal is to ensure that 100% of our students graduate from high school—this achievement being one of a series of steps to overcoming the cycle of poverty. While high school graduation is linked to employment, it alone is not enough. In a 2015 report by the Pew Research Center, “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College,” they concluded that “On virtually every measure of economic well-being and career attainment—from personal earning to job satisfaction to the share employed full time—young college graduates are outperforming their peers with less education. And when today’s young adults are compared with previous generations, the disparity in economic outcomes between college graduates and those with a high school diploma or less formal schooling has never been greater in the modern era.”[4]

To stop the cycle of poverty, it is critical that our students look at high school graduation as a stepping stone towards lifelong learning and career goals. We want our students, many of whom will be the first generation in their family to attend higher education, to imagine college as reality. To do this, A Step Beyond has partnered with California State University, San Marcos (CSUSM) and Dr. Karen Schaffman, Professor of Dance Studies, to create “Inspiring Future Scholars.” This program is an intergenerational model that connects college students with A Step Beyond’s third and fourth grade youth. The depth of this connection and the lasting benefits of this partnership is made possible through dance.

The vision for the partnership is to enact social change through thoughtful interactions between college students and children. This is done through a creative and somatic dance teaching and learning curriculum. When students experience an embodied, somatic dance curriculum, they connect intimately with themselves and their fellow dancers. As students create movement, they make visible their current learning process and possibilities for future growth. This new learning is put into practice as students collaborate to create small group dances. All dance classes conclude with a reflection on both the process of creating and the final products. As students reflect and connect in-class learning to out-of-class life, they experience dance as a social change model.

“Inspiring Future Scholars” begins with CSUSM college students enrolling in a semester-long, 3-unit course titled “Teaching Dance in the Community.” This course is divided into three parts: Part 1 is a lecture series that includes dance pedagogy, dance activism, teaching strategies and guest lectures on child development. Part 2 includes on-site participation in A Step Beyond classes and the creation, practice, and refinement of their own dance lesson plan. In Part 3, the college students co-teach their lesson plans for A Step Beyond’s youth. After receiving student, peer, and teacher feedback, the college students reflect on their learning through a portfolio presentation.

After dancing with the college students, A Step Beyond’s youth reported both personal and lifelong learning connections that strengthened learning in the classroom and demystified college as a future destination. Many of the youth reflected that having the college students in class helped them to stay focused, learn, participate, come up with new ideas, and feel confident in their choreography. 100% of the youth reported that after dancing with the CSUSM college students, they perceived college as a future opportunity and had a strong desire to attend.

When addressing the rising population of children experiencing poverty, we must look to models that offer creative, long-term solutions. By connecting two generations of students through dance, “Inspiring Future Scholars” empowers youth living in poverty towards positive future aspirations while also encouraging college students to become civically engaged. To this day, 25% of CSUSM students have continued their interest and involvement with A Step Beyond as interns and volunteers. One student noted, “At the beginning of the semester, I was unsure of what I wanted to do with my sociology major and with my life. Now I know that I want to work with the children and youth of my community.”



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